Are You Positive or Negative?
Does Your Behaviour Impact Those Around
And Can You Change It?
Ever wondered why some people seem to be so much more positive
than others? Or perhaps, why when you are trying to get someone
to do something for you, it has the opposite effect? In this
article, Bob Selden suggests it may have something to do with
your "locus of control".
Some years ago, I read a report by Spiro Zavos in the sports
columns of my SMH newspaper, which described the behaviour
of a football coach during a very tense finals game. The antics
of the losing coach gave a very good insight into why his
team did not win and in fact loses many close games. In part,
Zavos' report read "He was at his over-emotional worst at
Lancaster Park on Sunday. The eyes rolled more wildly than
ever, he stalked the sideline. Not even the television cameras
were safe from his flaying arms. His antics sent a damaging
message to his team: that the fates are conspiring against
them and they are, somehow, destined to lose. And for the
second week in a row they lost a critical game.
"The winning coach on the other hand " … sat impassively in
the stands. The sign he gave to his players with this emotionless
posture was that if the players wanted to win, they had to
do it themselves. And they did. Just.
"Both these coaches were very experienced and knowledgeable
about the game. Both had got their teams to the finals. But
why did one coach's team always lose the close games and the
other always win? It all has to do with the positive or negative
outlook we take and which can dramatically impact those around
us. Often we are not aware of the messages we are sending
through our actions. Psychologists call this a Locus of Control
(first developed by Julian Rotter, 1966). Locus of Control
refers to a person's perception of the main causes of the
events in their life. For example, do you believe that your
destiny is controlled by yourself ("I did it myself") or by
external forces such as fate or other people? ("It was their
fault") Put simply, if you believe that your behaviour is
guided by your personal decisions and efforts, then you are
said to be more internally focused, i.e. you have an internal
locus of control. On the other hand, if you believe that your
behaviour is guided by fate, luck, or other external circumstances,
then you are said to have an external locus of control.
Is one better than the other? That's always the $64,000 question
in psychology. But generally, people with an internal locus
of control tend to have greater influence on their motivation,
expectations, self-esteem, risk-taking behaviour, and even
on the actual outcome of their actions. As you would expect,
some studies also suggest that people with an internal locus
of control tend to be more positive in their behaviour and
Can you tell what your locus of control is? Perhaps the people
who know you well can answer this best for you. But there
are also a number of short tests freely available on the web
(for example; www.dushkin.com/connectext/psy/ch11/survey11.mhtml
that you can take. These only take a few minutes to complete
and will also give you a good guide.
The second, and probably more important question is: That
if you decide that you need to be more internally focused,
can you change your locus of control? The answer is an unequivocal,
"Yes". Many studies have shown that our locus of control is
a learned behaviour and as such, can be changed. My own experience
in working as a coach to club, national and international
rowing coaches, is that training coaches by getting them to
change their behaviour with their athletes, can improve the
positive outlook they display within 12 months! This approach
has also been successful in my role as a training consultant
in the work environment with new and aspiring managers who
were looking to improve the motivation of their team (first
look at thyself!).
Finally, how does one change one's locus of control and consequently
one's outlook? There are a number of training programs available
that use effective behavioural change methods to help move
people from a more external focus to a more internal focus.
But, if you want a very simple method that you can start applying
straight away, then changing the words you use in every day
conversations can have a major impact.
For instance, getting rid of the word "don't" from your vocabulary
and replacing it with the positive image of what you are suggesting,
starts to make you far more positive in your outlook. Take
a look at the following short statements and see what images
you get when you read each one …
- Don't drop it.
- Don't walk on the grass.
- In case of fire do not use lifts.
In the first statement, the only image that comes to mind
is the picture of "dropping something" (and quite often the
negative consequences of what we have just done and our previous
negative experiences of dropping something, particularly when
we were children).
The image that the second statement conjures up is of a person
"walking on the grass", not the footpath as the message intends
("footpath" is never mentioned!).
And in the third example, the only thing we can visualise
is the "lift". In fact, studies have shown that when there
is a fire emergency and the vestibule or foyer starts to fill
with smoke, the only word that people recognise in these types
of signs, is "lift" and they immediately head straight for
the lift and not the emergency exit as was intended. As a
result, some authorities have now changed their signage to
read "In case of fire, use the emergency exit pictured in
this diagram" (notice that in this new example the word "lift"
is not used at all).
Start to get the picture? Each of the original statements
immediately has both the speaker and the receiver visualising
and thinking of exactly the opposite (and negative) action
that should be taken. However, by eliminating the word "don't"
and replacing it with the positive action you intend as outlined
below, the speaker starts to think (and behave) more positively
and impacts his or her audience more positively, and thus
becomes more internally focused. Look at the way a person
with an internal locus of control, might express the three
- Hold on to the glass very carefully.
- Walk on the footpath.
- In case of fire use the fire exit described in the following
In these new statements, both the sender and the receiver
get the positive message immediately.
Can this technique work for you? I did some follow up interviews
with the athletes of the rowing coaches I had been training
12 months after the start of their training. Without exception,
the athletes all expressed the theme that "She has really
changed over the last 12 months. We are not sure what you
included in your training with our coach, but she is so much
more positive these days. We really enjoy being coached by
Is it easy to replace "don't" with a positive image? In theory,
yes. But in my own case, it took me about 12 months. Occasionally,
I still find myself using a "don't", but when I do, an "alarm
bell" goes off in my brain and I immediately rephrase my statement
to the positive image I want to get across. As a result, over
the last few years, people have commented to me "Bob, you
seem to be such a positive person. Even when you are faced
with adversity or a real problem, you always seem to take
a positive approach. I really enjoy working with you".
If you would like to discuss your locus of control with me,
I'd be happy to share some experiences. In particular, I'm
always looking for examples of behaviour change that I can
use in my consulting and coaching. Please drop me a line via
Bob Selden has worked with the NSW Academy of Sport
in Australia on their level two coaching qualification courses
and with many managers and leaders in business and commerce
training them in developing a positive mental image. He'd
be very happy to hear about your experiences with similar
techniques. You may contact Bob via http://www.nationallearninginstitute.com.
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